The Sunday after
It’s the Sunday morning after President Biden’s inauguration. A steady rain and predictions of snow find me indoors with a feeling of relief, if not quite contentment. I sit down and finish Frank Wilczek’s book Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality (2021). Wilczek is a Nobel Prize winning physicist and his accessible book offers new insights without undue complexity.
I especially liked his discussion of complementarity, which is, essentially, looking at things from more than one point of view. In his words, “Complementarity, in its most basic form, is the concept that one single thing, when considered from different perspectives, can seem to have very different or even contradictory properties.” Is it a wave or a particle? It’s both, but not at the same time; it depends on your interaction and what you are measuring.
Complementarity doesn’t only apply to physics. It can be a model for how we interact with the natural world and with other people; the way we consider another’s viewpoint. It’s the ability to hold opposing thoughts, and to explore where those thoughts lead you.
If we look at the last three Wednesdays (insurrection, impeachment, inauguration) it feels easy to choose “the right side.” But what if we consider that the insurrectionist might have a point? Or that impeachment went too far — or not far enough?
Too often we don’t allow ourselves this window, this gift. We prefer a thing to be This or That, with no extraneous deviations. We get caught up in the divisiveness of social media or our own heavily weighted opinions and forget that we live in a country with over 330 million people who see events through 330 million pairs of eyes. How will we ever reach consensus if we don’t take this into account? How will we ever know truth if we don’t examine the lies? Will we even known they are lies?
It’s so easy to fall prey to lazy thinking, especially given the numerous stresses we’re all under, the deep sadness of our growing death totals, the whipsawing of current events. I am certainly guilty of preferring my own “right” thoughts. But complementarity, like Zen, demands detachment. We don’t need to agree with every stated opinion, but we do need to acknowledge it as a point of view. We need, as Wilczek says, to “practice thinking differently.”
Science tells us that by observing the world we also create it. This is a fact, though it sounds like magic. The numerous crises facing the country are demands that we must pay attention and carefully consider our next steps. We are all creators; let’s practice thinking differently and build something amazing.